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ALBERT LEA, MN — It may be hard to tell by driving through, but the numbers show a disturbing trend in Freeborn County.
There are many children that are living in high poverty,” said Mary Laeger-Hagemeister of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Foundation.
People from all walks of life in the community got together to see what they can do about it.
“As we’re interacting, what can we do more effectively to work with the people in the thought of giving them a hand up, not a hand out,” Laeger-Hagemeister said.
So they brought in Donna Rae Scheffert, an expert on the topic, to show area leaders the numbers and get them motivated to fix them.
“Like all communities, there’s a division between the wealthy, the middle class and the lower class and so one of my worries for Albert Lea is how many people are living paycheck to paycheck,” Scheffert said.
That is because the average weekly salary in Albert Lea in 2012 was $664 according to the Southern Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
In comparison, Owatonna is $744 a week and Austin is $824 a week.
Aside from that, there are about 4,000 families in Freeborn County whose income is more than $75,000 a year.
“The idea that we each have our individual income and our individual wealth is actually not really true because if you have a public hospital, if you have a public school system, your costs escalate and you can either look at prevention or you can look at higher costs,” Scheffert said.
Of the 80 plus people who attended, most were unaware of just how bad poverty is in the area.
“People were really shocked, and one of the participants said this is just so disheartening. I didn’t know, I didn’t know poverty was that big of an issue in Freeborn County. So number one is raising the consciousness, raising the educational perspective on it,” Laeger-Hagemeister said.
Freeborn County is also working on a community success coach. That is someone who can help adults who are in a rough patch that simply need help figuring out what their next step in life is.